Coconut Oil Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

coconut oil

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Coconut oil is a plant-based fat derived from the meat of coconuts. Due to its high amounts of saturated fat, its claim to fame is that it is one of the only plant-based oils that is solid at room temperature. Many people enjoy its neutral, somewhat sweet flavor as well as the crispy texture it can add to cooked foods.

In recent years, coconut oil has become extremely trendy, often touted as a healthy alternative to animal fats like butter or lard. But the latest research indicates that, just like any other saturated fat, coconut oil should be eaten in moderation.

Coconut Oil Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 teaspoon (4.5 grams) of coconut oil.

  • Calories: 40
  • Fat: 4.5g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0g

Carbs

Coconut oil comes from a plant, so you might expect it to have some carbohydrates. However, coconut oil contains only fat—no carbs.

Fats

Coconut oil is 100% fat. In 1 teaspoon, you will get 4.5 grams total, 80% to 90% of which is saturated. The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are mostly composed of lauric acid, which may be responsible for some of its health benefits.

Protein

Again, because it is a pure fat, you will not find any protein in coconut oil.

Vitamins and Minerals

The coconut fruit contains some micronutrients, but they do not get passed into its oil. The only vitamins and minerals in coconut oil occur in very small amounts.

Calories

Coconut oil is a very high-calorie food. One teaspoon contains 40 calories (which means, of course, that 1 tablespoon contains 120 calories). Because it is so high in calories, most people should be mindful of how much coconut oil they regularly consume.

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has received a lot of publicity in the recent years about its health benefits, however research is limited. Here are some potential health benefits of coconut oil.

Could Benefit Hair

You have probably seen shampoos and conditioners that boast coconut oil as a primary ingredient. A 2015 study found that the application of coconut oil both pre- and post-washing reduced protein loss in hair. The study also reported that coconut oil did so better than mineral oil and sunflower oil.

Coconut oil might offer additional benefits for your tresses and scalp. A study from 2021 revealed that applying the oil to the scalp could promote healthy bacteria and fungi as well as decrease flaking–both of which might reduce dandruff.

May Benefit Skin

The lauric acid that makes up such a large portion of coconut oil’s saturated fats is known for its antimicrobial activity, which could have benefits for the skin. In a 2014 study, people with eczema applied virgin coconut oil to their skin.

Nearly half of the subjects experienced an “excellent” response to this all-natural treatment. Because of coconut oil’s antimicrobial, wound-healing properties, some people also apply it to their skin after receiving a tattoo.

In addition to its potential for healing inflamed skin, coconut oil is simply an effective moisturizer. Not surprisingly, it is a common addition to lotions and creams.

May Help Weight Management

Some research indicates that smaller doses of coconut oil could be a useful part of a weight loss regimen. The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) coconut oil contains do not get stored in fatty tissues like long-chain fats.

Meanwhile, some studies indicate that MCTs might also help decrease waist and hip circumference, especially when they replace long-chain fatty acids in the diet. However, many nutrition experts are still hesitant to make any sweeping claims about coconut oil for weight management until more research is conducted.

Suitable for People on a Plant-Based Diet

Unlike animal fats, such as butter, beef tallow, or lard, coconut oil has a place on a plant-based diet. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, or simply want to incorporate more plant foods into your eating plan, this oil won’t interfere with your plans.

Allergies

Although possible, an allergic reaction to coconut oil is uncommon. In fact, allergies to coconut products may seem more common than they actually are. Here’s why.

For food labeling purposes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies coconuts as tree nuts—and tree nuts are among the top eight food allergens. However, coconuts are only tree nuts in terms of food labeling. Botanically, they are fruits. For this reason, members of the coconut industry have campaigned for the FDA to change the classification of coconut products.

A true allergic reaction to coconut oil may appear as symptoms like wheezing, itching, hives, or vomiting. If you notice these symptoms after eating coconut oil, talk to a healthcare provider about the possibility of an allergy.

Adverse Effects

Although coconut oil sometimes enjoys a “health halo,” it won’t work miracles for any aspect of wellness, least of all heart health. In 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended against using coconut oil as a substitute for other fats because of its very high saturated fat content.

According to the AHA, eating foods high in saturated fat can raise bad cholesterol. However, ongoing research continues to tease apart the complex relationship between saturated fat and heart disease. Some studies have indicated that saturated fat is not nearly as detrimental to heart health as previously believed.

Additionally, before using coconut oil topically, be sure to discuss it with your doctor. Though some people report that topically applied coconut oil can benefit everything from dry eye syndrome to vaginal health, more evidence is needed to confirm these claims.

Varieties

Virgin, refined, cold-pressed, expeller-pressed—at first glance, there seem to be numerous varieties of coconut oil. Though they all derive from coconut meat, they do have their differences. The two primary forms of coconut oil are unrefined (also called virgin) and refined.

Unrefined coconut oil is extracted from the fruit by either a wet or dry method. It may either be expeller-pressed (a method that uses heat) or cold-pressed (a method without heat). However, it undergoes no further processing beyond its extraction—hence its "virgin" name.

Most people find unrefined coconut oil has a stronger taste and smell than refined. Its smoke point is also significantly lower, making it better for lower-temperature cooking methods.

Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, undergoes more processing. It may have neutralizing, bleaching, deodorizing, or de-gumming agents added to make it more suitable for high-temperature cooking. These additives also create a more neutrally flavored, less pungent finished product.

Storage and Food Safety

Storing coconut oil is a pretty simple affair. Keep a jar tightly sealed in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. Stored properly, virgin coconut oil has been known to last up to 2 or 3 years, while the refined version usually keeps for a few months. If you notice discoloration, mold, or unpleasant flavors, it’s best to discard coconut oil.

How to Prepare

Maybe you have picked up a jar of coconut on your recent grocery run—now how do you use it? For pan-searing and sautéeing, you can use this tropical oil interchangeably with any other liquid oil. Simply add it to a pan, heat, and cook. Just be aware that unrefined coconut oil has a lower smoke point than refined (350 versus 450 degrees).

You can also substitute coconut oil for other oils in baked goods. Try it in a one-to-one ratio with vegetable oils in pies, muffins, and cookies. Other popular uses include dropping coconut oil into coffee for a keto-friendly morning beverage, using it to pop your popcorn, or adding it to smoothies for extra flavor and fat.

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13 Sources
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